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I work a night shift at a local department store. It obligates me to walk home late after my 8-10 shifts, alone and tired - oftentimes with a coffee, energy drink, soda, or something to keep me awake.
While my friends are out at clubs, drinking, dancing and admittedly blowing through the pay provided by their jobs, I'm bored stacking boxes, cleaning floors, or mopping bathrooms.
To say that I was pissed off at my poor working conditions was an understatement. It was fucking annoying to have to be in an empty department store doing jackshit while I could be out, enjoying my first year of true adult life after my abortive college career.
Lucky me had bet on college being a heck of a lot easy. Alas, it wasn't, and I had dropped out mid-term. Of course, the college still kept in touch with me. Student loans had to be paid, didn’t they?
Walking home from my job, I mulled over my anger and let it quietly subside, not wanting to go through the cycle of self-loathing for the hundredth time I turned my attention to getting home, my apartment on 23rd street.
With still six blocks to go, I consigned myself to the long walk as I passed across the street in a rush, not paying attention to see if there might be cars.
The night was quiet, no sounds of life in this more residential part of the city, the only occasional sounds being the shouts of far off late-nighters and the occasional screeching of a car along the black streets.
I stopped at an intersection, leaning myself against a stop sign, tired due to the long night. It was then that I heard a faint rustling sound behind me. It seemed inconspicuous at first. The mere rustle of leaves. Yet after a while of listening I could make out the distinct sound of footsteps, of heavy walking behind me.
I didn't react at first. A late night stroller in a big city, normal for where I lived. It was probably a drunk or a homeless person. Or both more likely. And it wasn’t as if he was chasing me or anything. Their footsteps were heavy but not frantic, nor hurried. We simply happened to be going the same way.
Thinking nothing more of it and ignoring the sound I continued on my way, blocking out the sounds behind me. I stared idly down at my feet, jumping off the curb and heading across the cracked, black street.
Behind me I heard someone...something hop off the sidewalk right after me. I froze. Was someone following me? Turning around there was... nothing. No one was there. Just the empty street behind me, streetlights flooding a dark street.
Fuck, I must be more tired than I thought. The insomnia’s setting in now and you’re starting to hear things that aren’t there Mark, I half-joked to myself. Putting it behind me I walked on turning down an alley to the right, between two red brick buildings covered in the soot of a nearby housing development, the recent building allowing gray dust to spread over these building’s scratched red brick.
It was here that I heard again, the distinct sound of footsteps on hard pavement. It was still a ways off, the person sounded as if they were down the road I had left behind me, yet walking at the same steady and even pace as before.
My heart beat faster, as I wondered if I should run, or swing around and confront the person. It could be a low-life criminal, there had been some recent mugging's in the newspaper. Or some fucking weirdo, screwing with me. Either way I wouldn't have it. I stopped and turned around ready to confront the possibly armed assailant and....there was nothing. No one in the alley but me, the lights of the lampposts reflecting on the black street, already far behind.
I stood there bewildered, wondering whether the noises where simply imaginary or... no. I... I couldn't be imaging them. There were as clear as day, the pounding still in my mind. Someone was fucking around with me.
"Hey fucker, leave me alone!" I yelled at the empty alley. There was no response.
I stepped back and picking up my pace I started to jog the less than half block I had to go to get to my apartment.
Coming out onto my street the wind began to send a light breeze through, the street darkly illuminated by two lamps at either end. I came out in the middle where there was no light.
I stepped off the curb, shuffling through dead leaves. I stopped however, as I heard once more the sound of someone else doing it not far off. I bolted, tearing through the darkened street, my own terror or the loud shuffling and crunching of the leaves blocking out all other sounds.
In my haste I paid no attention to the deep puddle of water near the curb, slipping and catching myself on a telephone pole. The rough wood ripped through my hands and I barely caught myself, but I did.
Angry again, I turned kicking forward at the leaves expecting to hit something.
And there was no one. The street was empty. At least I thought that until I saw a grey shape bolt onto a concrete path between two houses.
I ran towards it, only to round the corner and see the alley empty.
I stood bewildered. There was no way, no possible way for him to have got away. He was practically right behind me, he had to be somewhere.
But he wasn't. I groped around with my pockets to fish out my phone and cast its small white light into the small alley. It was as empty as it always was, not a sign of anything.
I walked away still facing the alley not wanting whatever was following me a chance to sneak out.
I came to the curb, hopped up, all the while still turning back, and feeling paranoid now. Walking up to my doorway I fumbled with the keys, and dropped them twice, still visibly shaken by the encounter.
I finally fit the key in and unlocked the door, stepping in to let a gust of cold, sharp wind in with me. The entrance to my apartment seemed cold and unwelcoming, dark due to the moonless night outside.
I dropped my jacket and shoes there, too exhausted to care about the mess.
I began to climb the stairs that led up to my bedroom, and turned right into the shared bathroom. Not bothering to turn the light on I fumbled with the faucet and after cleaning my hands and picking at the torn skin, headed for my room. Thankfully my room-mates Rick and James were gone. I needed the house to myself. That... guy was still probably watching the house from the street.
I took out my phone resolving to call 911 and send the cops on the fucker's ass. I’d stay inside and wait for them to get here. Bastard had probably run off by now. I looked at my hand for a second and walking into my room I sat down facing the door, my back to the window. I dialed the number and was quickly answered.
"Hello, what is your emergency?"
"Hello? Hi, uh my name is Mark Phillips. I live on 3357 Marino Avenue. While I was walking home I was followed by a strange... man who chased me as I approached my house. I'm inside now and all the doors and windows are locked. I'm pretty sure he's gone now, but would you send someone down here?"
"Of course, Sir. Please stay indoors and make sure all windows and doors are locked. We'll send someone over right away. Please stay on the phone."
I sighed. Thank, god. Hopefully the cops would scare away whoever the bastard was, if he was still here. I turned my phone off and put it on the nearby nightstand.
I exhaled quietly again, this time seeing my breath in the cold night air. I can see my breath? It can't be that cold inside. Not unless... I froze as I realized that my window must be open.
A cold breeze billowed through the undoubtedly open window, as I sat frozen at the prospect that, no he couldn't have, there's no way...
A cold hand laid itself on my right shoulder.
A dry, raspy voice spoke up, the speaker right behind me.
"Thank goodness. I finally caught up to you."
Written by Tay13